Bouck White Ceramics & How We Learn New Things

Published on January 25, 2010 :: 4 Comments

This is a story about a pitcher, a vase, and how Steven and I learn new things.

Years ago – 7 or 8 I think – we picked up this funky blue ceramic pitcher.  We thought it was kind of cool, and kind of gross, and probably damaged (had it been in a fire? we wondered)  So instead of going into stock for shows, it just sat around our house.  When our older son was really small, and learned the word “antique” (which our children do at a very young age, as in “Don’t touch that, it’s an antique!”) he decided he liked the ugly blue pitcher and asked if it could be his antique.  We said sure.  And it’s been on the shelf in his room ever since.

Then sometime last fall we came across the orange vase.  We said, “Hey, it’s like that blue pitcher!”  And so began its career of sitting around our house.  Until one day shortly before the holidays when Steve was at our shop in Hudson.  He called me to ask what the mark on the bottom of the orange vase looks like.  It turned out that one of our partners had a charger with similar glaze, which he  identified as Bouck White.

After Steve’s call, I spent some time reading up on this eccentric potter and his work, and brought the blue pitcher downstairs so I could photograph them together.  Like this:

bouck white ceramics

White had quite a colorful life, and I encourage you to google him and read more.  These are just some highlights, complete with the striking ironies in his story.

WhiteBouckPortrait

Born in 1874 in upstate NY (not far from where we live.)  Graduated from Harvard and Boston Theological  Seminary.  He held a number of pastoral positions, ending up at Holy Trinity Episcopal in Brooklyn.  While there, he wrote several books with distinctly socialist views, including The Call of the Carpenter which portrayed Jesus as an agitator and social revolutionary.  Holy Trinity let him go, and he started his own church.  White was a member of the American Socialist Party, but they removed him because of his religious beliefs.  Irony:  he got fired from church for being a socialist, and then fired from the socialists for being religious.  Rich!

Later he spent time in Europe, and brought back a 19-year-old girl to marry.  He mistreated her, however, and the townspeople where they lived had him tarred and feathered.  The marriage was annulled.  He settled in New Scotland, near Albany NY, and built a primitive castle out of local limestone.  He made a living selling “Bouckware” pottery, with a new glazing technique that did not require heat.  In 1940 a fire destroyed the living quarters of his castle (catch the irony there?)  He later suffered a stroke, and died in an old folks home in 1951.

His adult life is brilliantly summarized by Paul H. Friesen

“Bouck White drifted through the Methodist Episcopal ministry, the Congregational ministry, and a stint as an Episcopalian lay youth worker, before founding the Church of the Social Revolution and exasperating all socialist and ecclesiastical organizations he encountered, before descending into notorious eccentricities in the mountains outside Albany, New York.”

Here is a close-up of his innovative, if strange, glazing technique:

close up of bouck white pieces

This whole experience has pointed out to us so clearly how we operate.  We find something, like it, buy it, and then learn about it (unless we sell it quickly, in which case we learn about it after the fact.  Not always good.)  And we have acquired a lot of knowledge in our 12 years in the business.  But often it is just the look, the feel, and our intuition guiding our buying, and then the knowledge follows.  I am not necessarily recommending this as a business model, but it works for us.

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After I had written the first part of this post, we discovered that another of our partners in Warren Street Antiques has some nice examples of White’s pottery, as well as some interesting paperwork.  Andy and Laurie Geller of New Scotland Antiques were kind enough to send me some pictures to share with you.  They also currently have a few pieces of Bouck White pottery for sale on ebay, here.  Andy was telling me a little more about White’s heatless glazing technique, and mentioned that it has asbestos in it!  So we agreed — don’t feed the children off of it.

These are a couple of photo postcards, one of the potter and one of his “castle.”

The potter himself

Helderberg Castle

Here is a sales brochure of Bouck White pottery:

Brochure

And here are a several of the pieces that Andy and Laurie own:

Geller's pottery

Geller's pottery

And I did find a couple of pieces on 1st Dibs, including this gorgeous lamp:

Bouck White lamp on 1st Dibs

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  • http://www.geobubstudios.etsy.com Deb

    Fascinating story! What an oddball guy! Except for the part about mistreating his young wife, which is more disgusting than oddball, of course. But I am completely intrigued by glazing without heat. And the work is beautiful. And just another example of your elder son’s discerning eye!

  • http://fineestateliquidation.com/ Fine Estate Sales

    OH Dang!

    Another thing to learn about…just loved how you wove this story…and it just goes to show how much all of us have to learn…

    Thanks

    Martin

  • Benjamin

    Thanks for the info. We visited upon the site of his home and googled ’til we found your site. It seems that someone has built a home on top of the old foundation – and it also seems that possibly the crosses from the windows and an arch are arranged in a small garden.

  • The Tomato

    Fantastic find. I came across Bouck White’s story after seeing pictures of his castle online.